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Head of top institute of technology resigns

(Keystone)

The president of Switzerland's leading science and research institute has stepped down amid a row over controversial reform plans.

Ernst Hafen who has been in the top post of the prestigious Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich for less than a year faced increasing opposition from the board and fellow professors.

"It has become clear over the past few days that I don't have the necessary support to continue in my position," said Hafen said in a statement published on Wednesday.

He added that he had been made the target of personal attacks, which had led to series of news reports and in turn risked to harm the reputation of the Federal Institute, known as ETH.

Hafen, a 50-year old biologist, earlier admitted that he made mistakes but hoped he could continue in his position.

His resignation comes just a day before a planned board meeting which was to discuss the opposition against a major overhaul of the institute, including abolishing the position of dean and reducing the number of departments.

Reaction

The chairman of the board, Alexander Zehnder, said Hafen had stepped down of his own free will, while Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said he deplored the resignation.

Hafen was elected by the Swiss government for a four-year term and took up his job last December. He will be replaced temporarily by Konrad Osterwalder.

The Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich has a global annual budget of SFr1.1 billion ($880 million) and more than 12,000 students enrolled.

It's considered in the top five of Europe's universities and technical institutes.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Hafen studied molecular- and cell biology at the Biocenter in Basel before working at the University of California at Berkeley and then at Zurich University's Institute of Zoology.

He received the prestigious Ernst Jung, Friedrich Miescher and Otto Naegeli awards for his study of growth control and metabolism in genes.

He was also a member of the National Research Council, professors' representative at the Council of Zurich University and on the editorial boards of several major journals.

Last year the government appointed him president of the Zurich-based Federal Institute of Technology.

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